Isaiah 14

Chapter fourteen continues God’s message against Babylon, addressing the king of Babylon specifically. In Isaiah 14:1-4, God made the promise of Israel’s restoration again, declaring that they would return to the land of Israel from all the foreign nations, making their once captors captives. This is why he could guarantee Babylon’s downfall.

The particular taunt or mocking song that will be sung at Babylon’s demise is recorded in Isaiah 14:5-23. The king’s brutality brought a song when it was put to an end. Even the trees were given a voice to celebrate that they would not be cut down unnecessarily anymore (Isaiah 14:8). Sheol (“the grave”) was excited to finally receive him, and the other pagan kings of the earth were described as lining up to receive him in the underworld (Isaiah 14:9-10). No matter how glorious he was in life, in death he was just worm food, like the rest of them (Isaiah 14:11).

Verses 12-14 have been the source of debate for many scholars. While the rest of the chapter is obviously pointed to a human king, the language in these verses changes to something more celestial. Some believe that it simply speaks to the king’s arrogance, that he would think of himself in the terms of ancient gods (Constable). The NET Bible study notes offers a second explanation.

These verses, which appear to be spoken by other pagan kings to a pagan king (cf. vv. 9–11), contain several titles and motifs that resemble those of Canaanite mythology, including references to Helel son of Shachar, the stars of El, the mountain of assembly, the recesses of Zaphon, and the divine title Most High. Apparently these verses allude to a mythological story about a minor god (Helel son of Shachar) who tried to take over Zaphon, the mountain of the gods. His attempted coup failed and he was hurled down to the underworld. The king of Babylon is taunted for having similar unrealized delusions of grandeur.

Many Bible scholars have taught that this was a veiled reference to Satan’s own fall, when he sinned in heaven. 1 This interpretation would explain the “heavenly” language used and would certainly provide the basis for the Canaanite mythology. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, “O shining one” was translated as lucifer, which was retained in early English Bibles (and popularized by the King James Bible) as his name, rather than a description. 2

Isaiah 14:16 returns to more natural language for a human king, even calling him a “man.” In his death, the people would wonder how they could have been so afraid of him. After all, he was just a man (Isaiah 14:16-18). Unlike other men, though, the king would not receive a proper burial, and his sons would not rule in his place (Isaiah 14:19-23). His dynasty would be destroyed by God himself, and Babylon would become a memory, a desert ravaged by wild animals.

The chapter closes with two short messages to Assyria and Philistia. To Assyria God promised to destroy them as well, like Babylon (Isaiah 14:24-27). In fact, this was his plan for all the nations of the earth. About 150 years later God revealed to Daniel that the Messianic King would destroy all human kingdoms in order to set up his own (Daniel 2:44-45).

The message to Philistia was dated to “the year King Ahaz died” (715 B.C.). They were warned to not rejoice that their oppression had been broken (Isaiah 14:28-32). This could refer to Assyria, whose defeat was just announced and would soon collapse under Babylon, or to Ahaz, who had just died. Rather than rejoice at newfound freedom, they were to fear what was coming – possibly the mighty Babylonian empire – which would certainly destroy them.

Notes:

  1. Ezekiel 28 is another passage that transitions from speaking about a human king to the evil angel.
  2. It is interesting that scholars can see this as a reference to Canaanite mythology, yet say that “an allusion to the fall of Satan here…seems contextually unwarranted.” (NET Bible Study note)

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